Monday, September 14, 2009

The Ootensiles

The Ootensiles are a Norwegian family living at the end of a long and narrow, winding gravel road. The farm is at the top of a high limestone bluff which overlooks the highway to Pittsburgh They share a house with a German Anabaptist family. The Germans are quiet and hard working. Their house is a sprawling two story complex of twenty rooms accommodating mother, father, an untold number of daughters and a son. On the first floor, the largest of these rooms is the kitchen. It's a large area with woodstove stove, sink, new birch cabinets and several offset rooms. The Ootensiles live in two smaller rooms off the larger kitchen.

They first came to live with the Germans after their farmhouse burned. A temporary placement over time became permanent. The big white clapboard house is a busy place in the summer. Vegetables are picked and canned daily for the long Pennsylvania winter. Bakery, especially pies, are made to sell to tourists at the end of the gravel driveway. On the guardrail at the opposite side of the highway, the Germans fix a sign that simply read nightcrawlers with an arrow pointing to Shady Lane. They sell the worms gathered after sunset to anglers who pass by their gravel road on their way to The River. In a good year, they sell a thousand dozen nightcrawlers. They raise chickens, geese and sell eggs. Horses provide pulling power and cows give them fresh,whole milk brimming with cream. In early summer, strawberries are their main crop. The gravel road is busy with people from all over driving up to buy quarts of sweet, red berries. Across from a small white building where eggs were kept cool, they set up a white canopy tent. On a six-foot long white plastic table flats of strawberries are displayed. To the side is a series of stepped shelves made of pine planks displaying jams, jellies and sweet pickles. You can get a good price on the homemade food if you promised to bring back the jar. Most forget to return the jar.

The Ootensiles took in Grandpa after Grandma died from from a kick in the head from a grumpy milk cow. Grandpa is a large, dairy farmer going on seventy years in age. There's Dad, not quite as big as Grandpa, Mom who's a bit taller than Dad who has a tendency to stoop and four kids. The boys-Rex, Ralph and Randolph-are a spittin’ image of Dad. Without the stoop, they are rounder-a bit pudgy some folks say. The youngest daughter is but a “wee bit”. While Mom, Helga as the Germans call her, is sturdy and tall, the little girl has delicate features and long, slender fingers. The boys are quiet like Dad. The little girl, Katrina, the youngest and somewhat fragile, is pampered most of her life. She is not allowed to roughhouse. As a result she is rather spoiled. Grandpa idles around the kitchen waiting for a moment to be put to use. Dad and Mom, always in some sort of hot water, are involved in food preparation with the German matriarch named Elsbeth. The boys are busiest at breakfast when oatmeal, porridge or dry cereal is served. They sit patiently at the table waiting for the Germans to come downstairs at 5 am. The little girl is kept apart from the boys because of her “condition”. She sits alone, staring at the ceiling wishing she were somewhere else. As a result she is cranky. The Norwegians termed it “foosy” in their language, which translated to fussy after you separated the accent from the word. The Germans called her verruckt.

it's hard tp compose with only your pointy finger, an extremely happy cat on you lap who will slide off if you don't

hold on to him and a puppy outside suspiciously quiet. more later.

Day two: Notes about the Ootenstiles.

Happy cat is outside hunting, Psycho puppy is running in large circles barking at a metal chair at the edge of the Brussels Sprouts which I used yesterday when picking yellow beans. I notice the Ootenstiles are living high on a hill which makes me wonder what they were smoking. "Dad stoops and four boys." What??? Didn't anyone proofread this claptrap. Grandpa came to live with the Ootenstiles after Granma died in the fire? Didn't the Norwegians move in with the Amish after their farmhouse caught on fire? Grandpa would have died in the fire too? Grandpa would have been living with his daughter or son-in-law before the fire if Grandma died in the fire. Why would only the German call Mom Helga if that were her true Norwegian name. Why would Norwegians use a Scottish nickname for the little girl? Dad and Mom in " some sort of hot water". What? Were they stealing quarters from the Germans? Did anyone look up "foosey" in a Norwegian dictionary? Did you catch the living conditions of the Ootenstiles? They live in two rooms off the kitchen. One would have to be for Dad and Mom who wouldn't want to be caught gettin' snakey by the children if they lived in the same room. But, the four boys share a room with the little girl who is kept separate because of her condition.

My life is broken into short bits of uninterrupted time. In the evening I rarely get to watch a movie without taking a puppy outside to pee, look for a wandering cat, checking to see why the dog is barking, checking to see why it's so quiet outside and throwing a cat or dog outside when rough housing inside causes one or both to yelp. I let the cat in, kick out the dog and in a matter of minutes hear a thump on the second floor. The cat comes downstairs with a dark brown lump of fur in his mouth. What the hay! A mouse upstairs? Upon closer examination it's a bat. Oh gee. Memories of a bedtime romp chasing a bat with a tennis racket while Dawn holds up a towel to capture the thing.

Now, early Tuesday, the dog's barking again. I see nothing on the drive or in the garden. We've already made friends with the chair. Her hackles are raised. She causes a dog from a mile away at Kettner's Cabins to start barking. The neighbor's dogs begin to bark. I bring her inside and find her on a side chair with tufts of stuffing at the sides of her snout. Will I ever get to finish this piece?

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